Need a distraction? The Powerball jackpot is ginormous
NEW YORK — A massive Powerball jackpot is up for grabs on Saturday.
The pot reached an estimated $435 million after Wednesday’s game, which was the 19th straight drawing without a jackpot winner.
The $435 million prize would match the tenth largest jackpot of any U.S. lottery, tied with a jackpot claimed by someone in Indiana in February. That winner used a corporation to shield his or her identity.
If it seems like huge Powerball jackpots have become more common, that’s because they have.
Saturday’s $435 million prize means that six of the ten largest Powerball jackpots have happened since the start of 2016.
The reason: Powerball changed its formula in October 2015 to give players more numbers to choose from.
And more numbers mean longer odds of a winner. The odds of winning Powerball are now 1 in 292 million, or 0.0000003%. Before the switch, the Powerball odds were 1 in 175 million.
With fewer winners, the jackpot has the chance to grow bigger week after week.
The biggest jackpot ever took place in January 2016, soon after the odds changed. That payout reached a record $1.6 billion — the one and only time it has crossed the billion dollar mark. The Powerball prize also climbed above $400 million in May, July and November of last year, in addition to the $435 prize in February.
Meanwhile, the Mega Millions game, which costs half as much to play, has only had four jackpots in its history that topped $400 million. Only one of those big payouts, a $536 million jackpot, came last year. The odds against winning Mega Millions are 1 in 259 million.
Of course, the size of those jackpots are inflated. They assume the winner takes annuity payments spread out over 29 years.
But virtually every jackpot winner chooses to take a smaller, lump sum payment up front. For Wednesday’s Powerball, that prize is estimated at $273 million.
Additionally, players only collect the entire prize if they are the sole winner, but the jackpots often have to be split between people with the same numbers.
Powerball and Mega Millions are now available in 44 states. All of them say that the profits provide billions in funding to schools and other social programs. But many economists argue that it’s a regressive tax, since poor and working class individuals spend a much larger percentage of their money on lottery tickets than wealthier consumers. Americans spent $73 billion on lottery tickets in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s more than they spent on music, movies, books, video games and sports tickets, combined.